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From ‘thrilled’ to ‘disappointed,’ La Jollans react to Point La Jolla closure

Sea lions rest
Sea lions rest at Point La Jolla in September.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The California Coastal Commission’s vote April 8 to close Point La Jolla and most of Boomer Beach to the public for six months each year has drawn polarized responses, much like the discussions that led to it.

Groups that advocated for the closure are applauding the decision, while those that hoped for more beach access and research are calling it “short-sighted.”

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously April 8 to approve the city of San Diego’s request for a permit to close Point La Jolla to the public during sea lion pupping season but expanded the proposed closure area to include most of the adjacent Boomer Beach and the closure period to six months from the proposed 3½.

The Sierra Club San Diego chapter and the Sierra Club Seal Society, which have been speaking out in favor of a closure for months, are “pleased with the California Coastal Commission’s decision,” said Sierra Club Seal Society chairwoman Robyn Davidoff.

Point La Jolla — a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach where sea lions go on land to rest and give birth — will be closed from May 1 to Oct. 31, during sea lion pupping season, using signs and a chain across the wooden stairs that currently provide access. The closure area would extend to cover the majority of the bluffs over Boomer Beach.

The annual closure comes after the city of San Diego closed the area for five weeks last summer, Aug. 11 to Sept. 15, on an emergency basis following months of reports of beach-goers bothering, and in some cases harming, sea lions and their pups.

Signs along the wall that lines Point La Jolla directed people away from the bluffs during last summer's emergency closure.
Signs along the concrete wall that lines Point La Jolla directed people away from the bluffs during last summer’s emergency closure. An annual closure is planned for May 1 through Oct. 31.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The city followed that up by proposing to close Point La Jolla from May 25 to Sept. 15 each year. However, the Coastal Commission imposed a series of conditions on the city’s coastal development permit, among them expanding the closure period to May 1 through Oct. 31.

The city also had proposed maintaining public access to Boomer Beach — where sea lions also haul out — and the bluffs above it, but commissioners pushed for expanding the closure area.

San Diego Parks & Recreation Department Assistant Director Karen Dennison said the city accepted the conditions.

The seasonal closure permit is to be in effect for seven years.

“We are thrilled that the commission and the city agreed to the seasonal closure dates of May 1 to Oct. 31 and use the boundaries from last year’s emergency temporary closure,” Davidoff said. “This boundary reduced the number of sea lion harassments while providing ocean access using the historic trail.”

The city will be required to have rangers onsite daily, another Sierra Club request.

Docents, bodysurfers, swimmers and others have asked for rangers to be stationed at the location to manage crowds. TAKE OUR POLL: Are park rangers necessary at Point La Jolla?

“The rangers … will be a huge improvement in reducing harassment,” Davidoff said. “We can’t wait for them to arrive, as visitors of up to 300 per hour continue to enter the rookery and disturb the sea lions who are eight months pregnant out of a nine-month pregnancy.”

Those against the decision continue to advocate for an environmental impact report to study the cumulative impact of the burgeoning sea lion population, as was requested by multiple local planning groups.

“I hope [City Councilman Joe LaCava] and his supporters suffer the consequences of the odor [from sea lion feces] they’re forcing residents to endure because of a lack of enforcement by the city against tourists who thought it was OK to harass the sea lions and take selfies,” bodysurfer Nick Menas said.

“By the way, he can inform the city that more lifeguards he claimed he wanted are no longer needed because the park rangers will be there, and there won’t be anybody on the sand or in the water to protect.”

Bodysurfer Kurt Hoffman said he was “disappointed but not surprised by the vote,” because those arguing for the closure “did a great job communicating their concerns to the CCC over the past year.”

“We appreciate the current issues of tourists and selfies,” he said. “We will support the city’s [permit] for a seasonal closure of Point La Jolla for 2022. We do not support closing safe access to Boomer Beach and No Mans [a local term for an ocean access point at the end of Point La Jolla]. We feel these issues need to be revisited in 2023 and an EIR must be commissioned by the city of San Diego as soon as possible … [and] must be a condition of any Point La Jolla [closure permit] for 2023.”

In October, the La Jolla Community Planning Association voted to ask the city to preserve access to Boomer Beach and decided to ask the Coastal Commission to require an EIR for any future closure. The vote came after months of discussion and debate at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board, where the idea of an EIR also was floated.

In a collective statement, Community Planning Association President Diane Kane and Parks & Beaches President Bob Evans and Vice President Brenda Fake criticized last week’s decision.

“It’s an unfortunate decision that both the city of San Diego and the CCC worked toward, and was very unbalanced and does not meet the needs of the community,” they said. “The majority of the public has a positive perception of the sea lions, but the majority of the conflict has stemmed from a small number of very vocal individuals who feel passionately about the issue. We think it’s critical to understand the full breadth of sea lions and their impact on the environment and community, such as what can be achieved by a comprehensive environmental impact report. The city should have done a much better job with all stakeholder engagement to reach a collaborative win/win for everyone, including wildlife. Closing down beaches and access, coupled with K-rails and ugly signage and anything that diminishes the recreational uses of the park, is a very short-sighted solution.”

— La Jolla Light Editor Rob Vardon contributed to this report.